W

hen Kate Strayer-Benton arrived at a Boston nightclub last Wednesday night for a party for attendees of the BIO International Convention, she was expecting to see extravagant costumes. The annual party — called the Party At BIO Not Associated With BIO, or PABNAB for short — after all, has a reputation for bringing over-the-top themes and festivities to an industry networking event.

But Strayer-Benton was shocked and frustrated by what she saw: At least two topless women dancing on mini-stages, their bodies painted with logos of several of the companies that had sponsored the party.

In a photo that Strayer-Benton took at the event and shared with STAT, a dancer wears only a crown of flowers, a pair of boots, and bottoms resembling a bikini; her body is painted with the logo of the investment firm Alpha Blue Ocean on her abdomen and the biotech company Selexis on her right thigh.

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“It felt like a line had so obviously been crossed,” said Strayer-Benton, director of strategy at Momenta Pharmaceuticals. “Objectifying women — in this case, even physically branding them with sponsorship of companies in our industry — it just felt so wrong.”

She wasn’t the only industry insider to take offense. Alnylam Pharmaceuticals CEO John Maraganore, who is chairman of the trade group that puts on the BIO conference, told STAT he was “horrified” to learn of the party. He said BIO is warning member companies that sponsored this year’s PABNAB that if they sponsor the event again in the future, they’ll be kicked out of the trade group.

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This year’s party comes as the #MeToo movement has raised awareness not only about sexual harassment but also gender issues in the workplace.

It also comes 2.5 years after an infamous party on the sidelines of the J.P. Morgan conference in which investor relations firm LifeSci Advisors hired models in short dresses to socialize with guests at their reception, stirring widespread outrage. (LifeSci, to its credit, has been widely praised since for its efforts to try to help women in the industry advance in their careers.)

The website BioCentury first reported on the presence of topless dancers at this year’s PABNAB. Martina Molsbergen, CEO of a consulting group that co-organizes PABNAB, defended the event, telling BioCentury it was “edgy and artsy” and in keeping with the spirit of previous PABNAB parties. Molsbergen did not immediately return STAT’s emailed request for comment.

A spokesperson for Selexis said the company “has been a proud sponsor of the PABNAB party for years” but, this year, “had no prior knowledge that the logo was going to be used in that way.”

Alpha Blue Ocean didn’t know in advance, either, according to the firm’s CEO Pierre Vannineuse. He said he had been told his firm’s branding would be used on items like bracelets, flyers, and beverage glasses. “We just can’t have our name associated with such disgusting objectification of women,” Vannineuse said.

As its name suggests, PABNAB has no affiliation with the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the trade group that puts on the official BIO conference every year. The annual party and others like it usually feature hired dancers and acrobats.

In addition to the topless dancers, last week’s PABNAB featured dancers like the one in this video.

This is not the first time PABNAB has spurred controversy. At 2016’s iteration of the event in San Francisco, attendees partied with a live camel.

After the infamous LifeSci party at J.P. Morgan in 2016, two high-profile industry women — Kate Bingham, a managing partner at SV Health Investors, and Karen Bernstein, chair of BioCentury — initiated a widely circulated open letter calling on the industry to refuse to do business with companies that put on such parties.

Strayer-Benton had expected a similar outcry after last week’s PABNAB. When it didn’t materialize, she said, she decided to take action herself. She edited Bingham and Bernstein’s 2016 letter, making redlined changes to update details like the time and the location. She also changed the title, from “Time to Just Say No,” to “It’s Well Past the Time to Just Say No.” On Monday night, she sent that letter to Joanne Duncan, an executive at the trade group BIO, as well as to Bingham and Bernstein.

READ: The letter that Kate Strayer-Benton updated and sent to a BIO executive

“We can talk all we want about diversity on panels and in the boardroom, but when events like this are commonplace, I just think it undermines all the progress” being made by industry groups and drug companies, Strayer-Benton said. “I just think we take giant steps backwards when something like this is considered acceptable.”

Strayer-Benton’s letter set off a swift reaction inside the trade group BIO. At about 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the head of BIO’s committee on workforce development, diversity, and inclusion emailed the other committee members to inform them of what had happened at PABNAB. In the early afternoon on Tuesday, the committee members convened for an emergency phone call, where they made the decision to tell member companies they would no longer be welcome in BIO if they continued to sponsor PABNAB.

“We cannot stand for an event like that that is debasing and is frankly not consistent with our standards around inclusion,” Maraganore said.

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  • Awful. Whose ever idea this was should be removed from participating in future events NOW. No warning. No waiting until next year.
    I understand that companies leaders may not have been aware but someone planned and executed this event. Root them out.
    Aside from being base, it is the classic work related social event that leads to further compromising behavior, misconduct and lawsuits.
    Ask anyone who has managed a sales or off site team for a some years

  • Why is it never men naked from the waist down? Why are men never naked in any but foreign movies? Let’s go for parity! I say #MenToo!

    I really say are you joking? Are men so stupid!

  • I am shocked that some comments seem to say semi-naked women at a corporate party are fine. No they are not fine. This is a professional organization, not a club. People are there to see colleagues, discuss the conference and greet people they like.

    • Someone is paying those trolls … there can’t be that many Neandertals in the biotech industry.

  • You know, it is entirely possible to have dancers at an event without having them LITERALLY be half naked… (i.e. leotards, ACTUAL costumes that go with the party theme, etc).
    That said, is it really so shocking that people might not want to be confronted with bare breasts and women with logos painted on their exposed bodies while at a party among colleagues? I PROMISE that it’s still possible to have fun and let loose at a party in which dancers are clothed in a less revealing, or at least thematically appropriate way.
    All in all, I am truly baffled that people are failing to see how this might not have been the best choice for a party among professionals. Is it really so difficult to imagine that a minimally clothed person, regardless of gender, dancing on a platform might come across as sexual and possibly inappropriate? All in all, the nudity was highly unnecessary and people have no chill.
    And for those out there that are failing to grasp why this could be construed as offensive, ask yourself this: would it be appropriate to find topless dancers with your company logo painted on their bare bodies dancing at your next office holiday party? Yeah, didn’t think so.

  • Every club in the country has dancers, usually body painted. That is literally their job and many love it. This person is insulting these dancers by calling their work degrading. She is the opposite of a feminist. Why do people have to get offended by everything? There is nothing sexual about this, unless you are repressed . As a feminist I’m more offended by strayer-Benton’s reaction to art

    • If you don’t know that using women’s naked bodies to sell products is degrading and sexist, Jimena, than I personally have no idea where you get the gall to identify yourself as a feminist. As to the women who participated in this; they may assert that they were participating in an artistic endeavor, but all art exists in a context, and the context here was selling a product through the objectification of women’s bodies – and some people will do *anything* for a buck.

  • What a joke and a disgrace. And the attempt of so called “feminists” on this site to defend what we all know is using sexuality to advertise companies is laughable. Not sexualized?Naked women dancing? Try telling that to a strip club patron which is what this conference was.

  • As a bodypainter, I’m a bit disappointed with the opening of this article… They make it sound like a gogo dancer or painted or clothed, is in the ranks of prostitution. (full disclosure, I have no issue with sex workers).

    Gogo dancers are a thing at any club, if they don’t know that, then they need to get out more. And I know, and have worked with, MANY… Most will wear booty shorts and small tops, because :
    1. They get better tips (yes, please tip your gogo dancers)
    2. all that dancing is warm work, so they dress down as to not over heat… they’re sweaty as hell after too and don’t want to be walking around in soggy tops.

    3. (and this is important), Bodypaint, as a whole, isn’t sexual at all… it becomes sexualized in the mind of the viewer. If this person becomes offended, because of a person with bodypaint, do they also get offended when a woman is breast feeding in public? How about if they see a nude sculpture or painting at a gallery? Nudity in and of itself isn’t a sexual state of being, and the person who was offended needs to look inside themselves to find out why they found it so offensive.

    I’m a feminist, so I can appreciate the #metoo movement. But I also support those models or dancers that want to be painted and perform. Kate Strayer-Benton is basically belittling a woman for her job.. because she doesn’t approve of and sexualizes nudity. That’s not feminism, that’s repression.

    • It is hard to pass this off as artistic or cutting edge when it is only women who are topless and dancing; there were reportedly no men in g-strings dancing on mini-stages. The not-so-subtle message is that this is an event aimed at males. There are plenty of non-sexualized ways to use body art and dancing to promote product.

  • It’s weird enough to see something like that at a club, but at a biotech conference?? Imagine all the woman attending, standing there with male colleagues. Must have been incredibly uncomfortable to say the least. I would have wanted to run out of the room.

    • How is gogo dancing, weird to see at a club? It’s part of almost every club. And bodypainting is a HUGE thing, at all sorts of conventions. (From tech, to comic book).

    • Well you should have left and ho somewhere else! Obviously not for you…I tespect your feelings but you should not slag 99,9% of the happy people there!

    • What?? Would be weird to see at a club? Have you ever been to one? There are almost always paid Go go dancers.

  • What century are the promoters of this party living and working in? It sends a message to women: stay out of biotech, you’re not welcome unless you like to be objectified and admired for your body – forget the brain – who needs that for biotech? Heh?

    • Any woman who this drives out of biotech doesn’t belong in biotech. Women are not the delicate flowers that feminists paint them. They are far more aggressive with male strippers than males are with female strippers.

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